341 days: Step 1 – Target

Quick recap: I have a plan to raise $10,000 for some awesome organizations by Sept. 22, 2013. Tally so far: $925. And squeeze in some training for Ironman Lake Tahoe (and other events).

Ragnar Northwest Passage registration is open. Four commitments are in, 8 more to go…

Last Thursday we spent a little more time talking about STRESS. I need your help with a couple of things, so please make sure to participate in the poll and help me decide who needs a stress break.

Those who’ve written or closely followed a blog in the past might know that you can provide tags or categorizations for each post; the intent of these tags and categories is manifold. I use categories to make it easier to identify the types of blog entries that I write each day. When I started off describing this goal of mine and introducing the 4 organizations, each post was listed under the category, “The Journey”. The post for each organization was also given the additional category pertinent to that organization – so I can later track back to all of the posts related to that organization, and to point others interested in those specific posts to that collection of posts very quickly.

Extremely astute observers, armed with this new bit of information, might notice that I’ve categorized the recent posts discussing stress, and the post today, as belonging to the “Van Down by the River” category. For those not familiar with phrase, allow me to give you a brief reminder/introduction to “Matt Foley, motivational speaker”:

I have no intention of living in a van down by the river (though I think it would be cool to live on a boat… but Lauren always reminds me that is not possible. Not enough room for her shoes). And I don’t have any intentions of crashing through coffee tables. And it’s not likely that you will ever see me on the motivational speaker/writer circuit. But, hey, my dog Theo gets very, very amped up whenever I give him a pep talk… so we won’t quite close that door all the way, yet.

Yesterday I gave a brief overview of the action from the Ironman World Championship this last Saturday in Kona. In a nutshell: the pros are ridiculous. Amazing. B-A-N-A-N-A-S. I respect the holy heck out of what they do, and wish I had started this whole triathlon thing earlier in life so I maybe (just maybe) could have been one of them. But those aren’t the athletes that truly inspire and motivate me. It is the guy holding down a full-time job, and cranking out a sub-10 hour 140.6. The cancer survivor celebrating her life on the course. The athlete struggling to get across the finish line mere seconds before the 17 hour race cutoff time, battered by the brutal wind and sun but armed with sheer determination and the spirit to never give up.

How do these mere mortals go about taking on such a ridiculous challenge? What motivates them? What keeps them on track during their long, arduous training program and through that brutal 140.6 miles?

Just like anything else “big” in life…

They started by setting a TARGET.

In this case these athletes (and some who would never before consider themselves an athlete) set a goal of finishing an Ironman. The reasons vary for their insanity, but every single one of them took the very same first step: established their target.

The motivations for establishing a target vary. Be it in the athletic arena, at work, or just setting goals within your personal life. There is something motivating you to establish a goal. We won’t get into the “motivational seed” aspect today, but rather I wanted to share a few things that I consider when setting a goal.

1) Make the target difficult to reach, perhaps just beyond what I think I can do. Something that scares me a bit.

The first time I put a marathon on my to-do list, it scared me. But I did it. And it hurt.

The next time I put a marathon on my list, though, it didn’t scare me. I had proof that I could finish a marathon. But could I finish the race fast enough to qualify for the Boston Marathon? OK, back to scaryland. I didn’t know if I could do that… and that was more than a bit scary. I raced in pouring rain and howling winds. And qualified for Boston.

At work we had been using a spreadsheet and desktop database system for our cost estimating practices. It worked well enough, but there were too many intermediaries in the data stream, making the process slow and data updates imperfect. Even though I’ve done some programming in the past, I had never built multi-user databases accessible via the Internet with customized web page front ends. I set a goal to design, develop, program, and roll out such a system. And that scared me. But I built it, and it is now considered the cutting edge standard in the industry.

This year I set a goal to race in a half Ironman distance race – the 70.3 distance. 1.2 mile swim. 56 mile bike ride. 13.1 mile run. I had done well in some sprint distance triathlons, and felt the pain of racing an Olympic distance. This goal seemed ridiculously daunting and crazy. Yep, it scared me something fierce. I finished my first 70.3 in Napa, in the heat, bonking hard during the run, yet still got 9th place overall.

After finishing my first 70.3, I set an even higher goal for the next one. Qualify for the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Las Vegas. I raced Ironman 70.3 Lake Stevens with that goal – in order to do it I figured I would need to be about 20 minutes faster than I finished the Napa race. Finishing Napa as quickly as I did almost crushed me. This goal scared the Jeebus out of me. So I raced Lake Stevens really hard, biking the hilly course as hard as I could in the unexpected cold and driving rain. And finished with a time that I thought should qualify me for the World Championships. But I didn’t qualify.

2) Make a super-mega-pie-in-the-sky target, but build up to it, over time, as a stretch target.

Every single one of those goals I set, above, scared me. None of them were easy. But they weren’t so far out there as to be discouraging. I set the goal to run a marathon considering that I have been something of a recreational runner for periods of my adult life. The online system I developed for work was enabled by having done some programming in my past, and having extensive knowledge of excel spreadsheets and data structures. Doing half Ironmans was enabled by the shorter distance triathlons I had done the prior two years.

I reached far. But not too far in any single shot. Out of the gate I didn’t set a goal to complete an ultra-marathon. A marathon was plenty scary. I didn’t set out to design a fully integrated online project management control system capable of handling integrated risk management, cost estimating, budgeting, schedule development and updating, and earned value management. One of those was difficult enough (but I’ve actually gone on to build most of those elements later). I didn’t go straight from runner/cyclist to Ironman 140.6. I worked from sprint triathlons (scary at first), to Olympic distance (swim almost a full mile!? Scary!), and now can do Ironman 70.3 races. And next year 140.6 races.

Keep the big target in mind… but be mindful of intermediate targets that are possible… but difficult to accomplish.

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